It's long past the time when Assembly Speaker Willie Brown should have removed his friend and appointee, Mark L. Nathanson, from the California Coastal Commission. Any further proof that might be necessary, however, was provided Thursday when a federal grand jury indicted Nathanson on eight felony counts of extortion, racketeering, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and income tax evasion. That's quite a list.
Even though an indictment is by no means a conviction and it is possible Nathanson will be found not guilty of all charges, his continued presence on the board threatens to compromise the integrity of the coastal panel's decisions.
The indictment of Nathanson, a Los Angeles real estate broker and developer, came as part of a political corruption investigation begun by the FBI. So far, three state senators, three legislative aides and a lobbyist have been convicted or have pleaded guilty. One of the convicted, former Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), who pleaded guilty to two counts of income tax evasion and racketeering, implicated Nathanson in a scheme to extort almost $250,000 from a San Diego hotel developer. Nathanson also is being charged with attempting to extort large amounts of cash from a number of Hollywood figures.
Nor is this Nathanson's first brush with the law. In 1974, he pleaded no contest to a charge of attempted grand theft in a case in which he was caught taking $2,500 from a Hollywood businessman seeking a zoning change. In 1986--the year he was appointed to the commission--Nathanson, a Republican, was fined $13,400 for failing to disclose substantial business interests while serving on the Little Hoover Commission, a state watchdog agency.
Yes, Nathanson is entitled to due process of the law. But the integrity of the powerful Coastal Commission is far too important to be even temporarily tainted by charges against a member that are as serious, and relevant to the commission's work, as those outlined in the indictment. Brown should remove Nathanson from the commission--soon.